Losing the Tether: First thoughts on Sig City of Blades

Sig: City of Blades is based on Sig: Manual of the Primes and Blades in the Dark

Sig: City of Blades, released earlier this year by Genesis of Legend Publishing, is a Forged in the Dark game of cosmopolitan planar fantasy. The overlap of these two genres (that is, ‘Forged in the Dark’ and ‘cosmopolitan planar fantasy’) is Sig‘s main selling point, and it’s a good one. Each of the genres is fun and interesting in its own right, yet they feel like they fit together so perfectly that they were almost designed for each other. And yet Sig: City of Blades is the first game that combines them.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been digesting the Sig: City of Blades rulebook with the intention of running a campaign for my friends. I’ve also been re-reading its direct antecedents in its genres, Blades in the Dark and Sig: Manual of the Primes, for background, context and inspiration. The tone of Sig: City of Blades suits my personal style (less grim than other Forged in the Dark games I’ve played) and the art and production design is gorgeous, so I started the process with very high hopes.

However, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is a game I will probably never run. There are too many little things that bug me, that are inconsistent or confusing. None of them make the game unplayable, but there are so many that my mantra while playing would be “Just don’t think about it too much”, and that’s not a very satisfying mindset to have as a GM (especially when many previous games in its genres have rewarded deeper understanding).

What I’m going to do in this blog is share some of my little concerns, as well as any ideas I’ve had on changes that could address them. There will be some overlap with things that Paul Beakley brought up in his excellent deep dive into Sig, which I recommend reading, but I feel I have a sufficiently different perspective even when we raise the same points. (I come from a background of planar fantasy while Paul doesn’t, but Paul also ran the game whereas my impressions are from reading the book only.)

There’s a lot of promise in Sig: City of Blades, and a lot of excellent pieces that I feel ultimately don’t all fit together. I still hope that one day we’ll get a game that perfectly blends Forged in the Dark design with cosmopolitan planar fantasy, but whether that game will be Sig: City of Blades or something else I’m not sure.

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A random generator to make D&D pantheons more believable

Greek gods as depicted in the video game Hades, with appropriate D&D 5e domains (Order & Tempest for Zeus; Tempest for Poseidon; Knowledge, War and Order for Athena; Nature, Twilight and Life for Artemis; War and Death for Ares; Trickery for Hermes).

A very short update today as I share a new tool I’ve put together to help worldbuilders create an interesting pantheon of deities for a roleplaying campaign. The tool is mainly designed for Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition, but could be useful for players of other games.


Here’s how it works: you say how many divine figures you want in your pantheon, and you say which divine domains you want to exist in your world, then the tool will randomly distribute the domains between those divine figures. Some deities will have multiple domains, some domains can be covered by multiple deities, and there may even be some divine figures who aren’t full deities (as they have no domains at all). The combinations will hopefully spark some inspiration, and avoid the tired (and inorganic) trope of having exactly one deity for exactly one domain.

The tool is currently available on Google Sheets (although ultimately it might work better as a web app or something). Try it out at the link above, and leave a comment about any gods or goddesses or other deities that you come up with after using it. Also let me know if you have feedback or suggestions.

What I accomplished despite 2020

It’s no secret that 2020 has been a pretty ghastly year in a lot of ways, and Covid-19 in particular has laid low many of the plans I had. I’d planned to start running a new campaign. I’d planned to go to GenCon for the first time. I’d planned to keep building up the RPG Museum wiki for all things roleplaying. The last of these I did for a while, but the year eventually sapped the energy I had to even do that.

But look, it’s worth looking at the positives where you can find them. Merely getting through the year is an accomplishment, and here are some other RPG-related accomplishments that I am also proud of.

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Beyond Dwelfs: Even more mixed race options for Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition

Portrait of a half-Dwarf, half-Orc (dworc)
Portrait of a half-Dwarf/half-Orc (dworc) named Grehg by Archaes8 (via DeviantArt)

It’s March, and apparently that means I’m doing another update of my free ruleset for creating and playing mixed race or hybrid characters in Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition. I launched this is March 2018 with Bring on the dwelfs: Mixed race options in Dungeons & Dragons 5e, and significantly updated it in March 2019 (one year ago today, in fact) with Dwelfs and Dragoblins: More mixed race options for D&D 5e. I wasn’t planning to update it today or even this month, but here we are.

For those who don’t know, I have a bugbear (ba dum tsh) with how fantasy races are portrayed in Dungeons & Dragons, and in particular with how the existing, official hybrid races (mainly Half-Elves and Half-Orcs, but also to a lesser extent Aasimar, Tieflings and Genasi) are presented as wholly separate from either of their parent races. I also dislike that they all seem to be half-Human and half-Something Else, for several reasons. In my first blog post on the subject, I talked at some length about my concerns and ways to address them using the rules as written.

But let’s be honest, it would be far more interesting if there were new rules for actual mixed race characters.

My solution has been to take the official Wizards of the Coast playable races (or at least those available on D&D Beyond) and split their associated rules into two parts, a Left Component and a Right Component, which can be mixed and matched to make any combination (including the official races themselves). I provide the general rules for each component, including the names of the features provided but not the rules of those features (you’ll need relevant official sourcebooks for that).

Now you have rules for playing that Dwelf (half-Dwarf/half-Elf) or Dworc (half-Dwarf/half-Orc) you’ve been thinking about. Or a Genasi that is half-Gnome instead of half-Human (a Genome, if you will). Or, for the first time in this update, a half-Tabaxi/half-Locathah (or Catfish).

This update includes new races from the Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount, Acquisitions Incorporated, One Grung Above, and Locathah Rising. The spreadsheet is also now available on Google Docs instead of needing to be downloaded as an Excel file, which I hope will improve accessibility and will definitely make it easier to update in future. Enjoy!

Creating Hybrid Races in D&D 5e by Stephen Morffew

Also, as ever, instructions and the components are also included in the blog below, but the spreadsheet is likely to remain the most up-to-date version going forwards. Check it out periodically for updates and new races! And let me know if there’s anything you want me to add!

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Uncle Step needs YOU… to check out RPG Museum!

It’s been quite a while since I last updated the blog, but I’ve been no less busy with roleplaying, thank Heavens. I’ve been playing in an absurd number of games pretty much consistently since my last post, which is delightful, and we successfully concluded the campaign of The Veil I was running. (The players were successful, that is, not the characters, which feels fairly suitable for cyberpunk and our campaign specifically.)

Other than that, I’ve been doing something a bit different: editing!

Two kinds of editing, in fact.

First of all, I edited Risky Things to do with Sorcery, a 7th Sea supplement by Michael Duxbury, which is now available for purchase on DriveThruRPG. I got involved initially as a playtester for his new rules for Fate Witch duels (give it a try: it’s fun but brutal!), but ended up doing a fairly thorough sense edit and copy edit of the final product. I’m perhaps biased, but I think it’s an incredibly useful supplement for 7th Sea GMs, and I wish I’d had it when I was running a campaign. I’m also really proud because it’s the first time I’ve got my name in a published-for-real-money RPG product and been credited for anything other than playtesting or backing by Kickstarter.

But the other kind of editing I’ve been doing is wiki editing! Early last year, I was talking to folks on Twitter about how great it would be to have some central repository of RPG design, theory, and other accumulated learning. I suggested a wiki, but I never acted on it until one day I found that such a wiki already exists! It’s called the RPG Museum and it desperately needs some love. I’ve been doing what I can, and I’m already seeing some improvements, but it would be fantastic if anyone else with an interest in RPG theory, design, history, culture, GMing, roleplaying, etc. could join in and help out. There’s plenty to do.

Here are some of the things I’ve already worked on:

A pretty big variety of things, I hope you agree! Maybe you’ll find these examples useful, but even these pages are almost certainly incomplete or need some tweaking, and there are plenty of other things that we don’t have any pages for at all yet. For example, we’ve barely even started on pages about individual games, publications, and game designers (and there’s quite a few of those that we might be able to lift from a certain other big encyclopedic wiki, just saying). How funny would it be if someone came and wrote a page about themselves or the games they’ve designed?

I’m very excited about the possibilities of this wiki, and I hope some of you come along and share that excitement with me!

Bloody Rose shows how to Rock & Roll some Dungeons & Dragons

Bloody Rose coverI recently read Bloody Rose by Nicholas Eames, a brilliant fantasy book about a band of misfits who travel around the land killing monsters. It’s exciting and it’s funny (I laughed for whole minutes at one point that I can’t tell you about without spoiling it), and the characters are badass and flawed and relatable. I’d recommend it to anyone with an interest in modern high fantasy literature. For reasons I’ll explain in this blog post, I’m also convinced that it should be added to the next version of D&D’s recommended reading (the 5th edition Appendix E version of which I have previously reviewed on this blog).

Now, I’m pretty sure that Bloody Rose is neither an official Dungeons & Dragons tie-in novel nor set in a D&D campaign world, but it clearly draws on D&D for inspiration. It’s got the standard ingredients: the aforementioned groups of monster slayers; non-human sentient races; magic weapons; a vaguely medieval setting with a map; a stark divide between human civilisation and monstrous wildlands; cataclysmic threats; heroics; bards to sing the tales. It’s even got some monsters straight out of the Monster Manual, including D&D-originals like owlbears, mariliths, and hyena-faced gnolls.

But the thing I’m most fascinated by in Bloody Rose is the spin that it puts on the heroic fantasy genre: what if adventuring parties were like rock & roll bands? It must have been done before, right? Does anyone know where and how? Regardless, I’ve never seen it before, so this is the story that made me wonder how to incorporate that idea back into D&D.

If you want to play a D&D campaign in which the adventuring parties were rock & roll bands, how would that work?

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Twitter and my toboggan ride down Mt Stupid

Graph of the Dunner-Kruger effect, from Wisdom of the Hands

I haven’t written anything on this blog recently. Mostly I blame Twitter, but perhaps not for the reason you’d think. Twitter is a much bigger pond that the circles I used to frequent on Google Plus. It has an active but disparate RPG scene. Being exposed to it has been eye-opening. So many clever people talking about RPGs and RPG theory in such depth and with such nuance. It has also been slightly demoralising.

(Sorry, this blog post could get a bit rambly.)

To use a metaphor about the Dunning–Kruger effect (a metaphor I also learned on Twitter), since running this blog I have been high up the slopes of Mount Stupid. Now I feel like I have just tobogganned down it and crashed into the Valley of Despair.

In short, I have finally learned enough about roleplaying games to know that I know nothing.

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Kobolds are a bit like Geese: A eulogy for Google+

In the last hour as I write this, Google+ finally shut down. It sucks, because Google+ was the best place I found online for roleplaying community discussions, and it suited me and my needs perfectly. Since the announcement that it was going, I’ve branched out to a few other social media sites. I’m now on Twitter (@Supermorff, follow me if you like) and reddit (u/stepintorpgs) and Discord (it confuses me so much) and a bunch of different forums. They’re fine but none are filling the hole just yet. Early days. (I understand some people have gone to places like MeWe, but I kinda don’t want to go somewhere that recruited social media-displaced roleplaying nerds with the same tactics they used to recruit social media-displaced white supremacists.)

Anyway, as a farewell, here’s a little thing that I posted on Google+ last year that I like enough to save. Enjoy.

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Dwelfs and Dragoblins: More mixed race options for D&D 5e

Male dwelf concept art by dmantz, via reddit

One year ago, I posted a way of creating player characters in Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition that have the traits of two different playable races. That blog post was Bring on the dwelfs: Mixed race options in Dungeons & Dragons 5e, and it has become my most-viewed post on this site.

However, after posting I realised I wasn’t entirely happy with it, and felt it could be expanded and improved. So, finally, here is the expanded and improved guide for creating mixed race or hybrid characters in Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition:

Creating Hybrid Races in D&D 5e by Stephen Morffew

(Since 22 March 2020, this link is to the updated version on Google Drive. Archives of the previous (Excel) versions linked from this page can be found here: v2 (22 March 2019) and v3 (10 May 2019). Alternatively, if you don’t want to download the file, you can browse the components at the end of this blog post.)

Whereas the previous guide included only 10 different official races (and some of their subraces), this new guide includes 71 different official races and sub-races, which can now be freely mixed and matched to create new racial options. You can still make your half-Elf/half-Dwarf Dwelf, but maybe you want to make a half-Dragonborn/half-Goblin, or a half-Shifter/half-Tabaxi, or one of over a thousand other possibilities. Now you can! Enjoy!

Update 2020-03-22: A second follow-up blog post has now been posted at Beyond Dwelfs: Even more mixed race options for Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition. While the links in this blog have been updated to the latest version, you’ll need to see the updated blog post for an update to the components as presented at the end of this post.

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Get Inspired: Reading from D&D Appendix E

Appendix E from D&D 5e PHBIn the back of the Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition Player’s Handbook, there is a list of inspirational reading called Appendix E. It’s a list of books (much as you might find in other RPGs) that influenced the creation of D&D or might help inspire players or DMs, and even some that were themselves inspired by D&D. It’s an expansion of an older list, Appendix N, that was compiled by Gary Gygax for the original Dungeon Master’s Guide in 1979. That list is specifically things that influenced Gary, and runs the gamut from fantasy through science fiction to horror; the additions for Appendix E tend to be more strictly fantasy, in line with what D&D has now become. (Other people have already talked about the evolution from Appendix N into Appendix E, so if you like you can look here, here or here, but in general I’d say that I’d have preferred if they’d been more willing to cut things out that no longer seemed appropriate.)

For a while, I’ve been reading books from the list when I’ve had the time, and now, in the last couple of months, I made an earnest attempt to read all the books that I hadn’t yet got around to. And since I have this roleplaying blog already, I might as well put down a little review for each thing I read.

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